Gator Bowl: N.C. State takes on No. 19 Texas A&M

Jimbo Fisher N.C. State takes on Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl.Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Jimbo Fisher has North Carolina State on his radar again.

The first-year coach at Texas A&M has a date with a former Atlantic Coast Conference rival when the teams meet in Monday night’s Taxslayer Gator Bowl at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.

There’s certainly a familiarity for this game, which will be the first football meeting between the schools.

“They know us, too, so I wouldn’t say that’s an advantage,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said of connections between the coaching staffs. “Probably both of us looking at what we do different from what we used to do.”

N.C. State (10-3) is trying to reach the 10-win mark for the second time in school history. No. 21 Texas A&M (8-4) is aiming to build off some late-season momentum.

Then coaching at Florida State, Fisher’s team lost at home in 2017 to N.C. State, so Fisher is aware of what he’s dealing with.

“Dave has done as good a job as anybody in the country,” Fisher said. “He has taken that program and risen it up.”

N.C. State will be missing a couple of key players who’ve opted to turn pro in advance of the bowl, but the Wolfpack has senior quarterback Ryan Finley to lead the offense.

“Ryan is playing,” Doeren said. “He’s excited.”

Finley, who’s listed among NFL Draft prospects, has completed 67.9 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,789 yards. That includes 24 touchdown tosses and nine interceptions.

“I think he’s even better (than past years),” Fisher said. “Overall game command. They put a lot on him.”

The Aggies have firepower, too. Across the last four games, Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams averaged 175 rushing yards per game.

Texas A&M arrives on a three-game winning streak. That includes the regular-season finale that resulted in a 74-72 seven-overtime victory against LSU on Nov. 24.

“One of the epic games in the history of college football,” Fisher said.

Fisher, though, had another special moment along the sidelines in a previous Gator Bowl. That’s when he was an assistant coach at Florida State for legendary coach Bobby Bowden’s final game, a victory against West Virginia on Jan. 1, 2010.

“It was a game I’ll never forget and I was so happy to be a part of,” Fisher said.

Texas A&M has a certain Gator Bowl background as well in its lone previous appearance in the event. In 1957, coach Paul “Bear” Bryant was in his last game with the Aggies, who lost to Tennessee, before moving to Alabama.

This year, Texas A&M is 5-4 against other teams participating in bowls.

N.C. State’s final five games of the regular season came against teams with losing records (though Wake Forest, which topped the Wolfpack, ended up 7-6).

The Aggies lost last year to Wake Forest in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.

The Wolfpack is trying to reach a double-figure win total for the second time in school history. The other time also came in its last visit to the Gator Bowl, capping the 2002 season by defeating Notre Dame for a school-record 11th victory. The Wolfpack lost in its other two Gator Bowl appearances.

N.C. State receiver Kelvin Harmon, who racked up a team-best 1,186 receiving yards this year, and linebacker Germaine Pratt, the team’s leading tackler, are skipping the game. N.C. State’s offense, though, has receiver Jakobi Meyers, who made a team-high 89 receptions in 11 games.

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